Taras Hryhorovych Shevchenko (March 9, 1814 - March 10, 1861) was a Ukrainian poet, also an artist and a humanist. His literary heritage is regarded to be a foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and, to a large extent, of modern Ukrainian language. Shevchenko also wrote in Russian and left several masterpiece paintings.
Born into a serf family in the village of Moryntsi, of Kiev guberniya (then a part of the Russian Empire), Shevchenko was orphaned at the age of eleven. As a child he exhibited talent as a painter, and while accompaning his owner P. Engelhardt in trips to Vilnius, and later Saint Petersburg, he received training in painting. His talents were noticed by influential Russian painters who intervened to gain him freedom from serfdom. The famous Russian painter Karl Briullov donated a portrait of his friend Russian poet Vasily Zhukovsky as a lottery prize, whose proceeds were used to buy Shevchenko's freedom from serfdom on May 5, 1838.
In the same year Shevchenko was accepted as a student into the Academy of Arts in the workshop of Karl Briullov. The next year he became a resident student at the Association for the Encouragement of Artists. At the annual examinations at the Imperial Academy of Arts, Shevchenko was given a Silver Medal for a landscape. In 1840 he again received the Silver
Medal, this time for his first oil painting, The Beggar Boy Giving Bread to a Dog.
He began writing poetry while he was a serf and in 1840 his first collection of poetry, Kobzar, was published. Ivan Franko, the renowned Ukrainian poet in the generation after Shevchenko, had this to say of the compilation: "[Kobzar] immediately revealed, as it were, a new world of poetry. It burst forth like a spring of clear, cold water, and sparkled with a clarity, breadth and elegance of artistic expression not previously known in Ukrainian writing."
In 1841 the epic poem Haidamaky was released. In September 1841 Shevchenko was awarded his third Silver Medal for The Gypsy Fortune Teller. Shevchenko also wrote plays. In 1842 he released a part of the tragedy
Nykyta Hayday and in 1843 he completed the drama Nazar Stodolya. After these successes Shevchenko traveled to Ukraine where he saw the difficult conditions under which his compatriots lived.
On March 22, 1845, the Council of the Academy of Arts decided to grant Shevchenko the title of artist. He again travelled to Ukraine where he met the historian, Mykola Kostomarov and other members of the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, a secret political society, created to advocate a wide set of political reforms in the Russian Empire. Upon the society's suppression by the authorities, Shevchenko was arrested along with other members on April 5, 1847, and sent to prison in St. Petersburg. He was exiled as a private with the Russian military at Orenburg in far reaches of the Russian Empire. Tsar Nicholas I, confirming his sentence, wrote, "Under the strictest surveillance, with a ban on writing and painting." It was not until 1857 that Shevchenko finally returned from exile after receiving a pardon, though he was not permitted to return to St. Peterburg but was exiled to Nizhniy Novgorod. In May, 1859, Shevchenko got permission to go to Ukraine. He intended to buy a plot of land not far from the village of Pekariv and settle in Ukraine. In July he was arrested on a charge of blasphemy, but was released and ordered to return to St. Petersburg.
Taras Sevchenko spent the last years of his life working on new poetry, paintings, and engravings, as well as editing his older works. But after his difficult years in exile his final illness proved too much, and Shevchenko died in St. Petersburg on March 10, 1861. He was first buried at the Smolensk Cemetery in St. Petersburg. However, fulfilling Shevchenko's wish, as expressed in his poem "Testament" (Zapovit), to be buried in Ukraine, his friends arranged to transfer his remains by train to Moscow and then by horse-drawn wagon to his native land. Shevchenko's remains were buried on May 8 on Chernecha Hora (Monk's Hill) (now Tarasova Hora or Taras' Hill) by the Dnieper river near Kaniv. A tall mound was erected over his grave, now a memorial.
Dogged by terrible misfortune in love and life, the poet died seven days before the Emancipation of Serfs was announced. His works and life are revered by Ukrainians and his impact on Ukrainian literature is immense.